John Madden’s “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

unnamed-29-750x420The 2011 sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was an endearing yarn about a group of British retirees priced out of their golden years in their own backyard and therefore relocating to India to what they believed was a newly-renovated hotel (“For the Elderly & Beautiful”) that was just the opposite. Having a to-die-for cast certainly didn’t hurt: a curmudgeonly Maggie Smith, a hyperactive Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup’s crusty old horndog, and Bill Nighy looking like himself for a change. Just having Smith and Queen Judi Dench in the same breathing space more than compensated for the script’s minor shortcomings in attempting to juggle an armload of individual character stories.

Still, was anyone honestly expecting a sequel? Me, neither. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a fitting moniker, as it doesn’t measure up to its predecessor. Sure, the elements from the original are back in place: the entire starring cast (minus Tom Wilkinson), director John Madden, and screenwriter Ol Parker, but the wry charm of the original got lost in the transition, replaced with a more burdensome tangle of humorless subplots jockeying for the biggest piece of this two-hour pie.

Set eight months after the original, Sonny (Patel), the Marigold Hotel’s young Will Smith-lookalike proprietor, dreams of expansion because his establishment is down to its last remaining vacancy, which two guests — one of whom happens to be Richard Gere as an author named Guy— have simultaneously arrived to claim. He is also engaged to girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai, again a welcome presence), meaning the inevitable extravagant Indian wedding and the pressures that come with it. As for the retirees themselves, Evelyn (Dench) and Douglas (Nighy) are working in Jaipur as a fabric buyer and tour guide, respectively, while Muriel (Smith) is the Marigold’s new co-manager.

It unfortunately strays little from the first go-round, with Madden taking few risks and relegating his embarrassment of riches to retreading the audience through Indian marketplaces, the vicissitudes of romance, and lame sitcom-worthy situations such as Sonny knocking himself out to accommodate Guy, thinking he’s actually a hotel observer. Gere is even more useless, with the writing on the wall from the start that he was brought into the fold solely for his star power. While Pickup is more well-rounded this time around and no longer looking solely to hop in the sack, the best the script can do for him in return is an intermittent, head-scratching conflict with a taxi driver. Celia Imrie, also reprising her role among the band of expatriates, is less fortunate as she is pursued by two rich suitors in an angle that goes absolutely nowhere and is salvaged by its resolution, while Smith is called upon once more to bemoan the aging process while trading subtle barbs with Dench; she’s essentially Grumpy Cat in human form. An energetic dance number late in the proceedings can’t hide the reality that a Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is all but permanently stuck on the drafting table.

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